Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, James McAvoy
Directed by M Night Shyamalan
By some estimation — most likely his own — M Night Shyamalan is an expert on superheroes.
He made his comic-book superhero drama, Unbreakable — where super-strong vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) faced off against brittle evil genius Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) — way back in the pre-box office gold time of 2000. Long before superheroes became the massive cinematic rage when Marvel came up with their first Iron Man blockbuster in 2008.
So, with a bit of reverence due to Shyamalan for having some bragging rights by being the first to truly tap into the comic-book potential in a big Hollywood way, we view Glass here — the conclusion to his accidental trilogy spanning 18 years in the making — with keen anticipation.
The vigilante — now given a comic book-ish name, The Overseer — and the diabolical genius are locked up together in a Philadelphia mental institution along with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), the wall-climbing psycho with multiple personalities from the second instalment, 2017’s Split. After an underlit, understaged test of strength in a dingy warehouse in which they fling a large table between each other like it's a food fight, both Dunn and Crumb are captured and sent to the loony bin.
Which makes this flick set three weeks after the events in Split look like a Chinese New Year reunion of weirdoes, but minus The Sixth Sense-type hongbao. Does this trio really have super powers or are they just deluded crazies who think they are super beings in a make-belief comic-book world? More precisely, exactly which world is real?
On an Avengers-size budget, this would be Superman duking it out big-time with Spider-Man, with Lex Luthor cheering from the sidelines. But since Glass has a small production wallet (reportedly US$20 million) and Shyamalan is a dude who prefers his characters doing the fighting with their mouths, this deal is more like a quick shallow probe into the very idea and notion of superheroes themselves, making it interesting for some and basically bonkers for others.
Some American critics have slammed Glass, with one headline even calling it “the biggest disappointment” of Shyamalan's career. Presumably, they also dislike the man for his pompous, pretentiously turgid plots about fairy-tale, alien-invasion and eco-threat alt worlds bordering on abject silliness and cerebral nothingness (see Lady in the Water, The Happening).
However, I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy. Yes, Glass is a letdown compared to the intriguing Unbreakable and the compelling Split. But it's not as bad as it's been made out to be.
Although, to be honest, at the screening where I saw the film, there were actually people laughing out loud. Mostly, I figure, at McAvoy's over-the-top rendering of multiple freaks from male to female to manimal that induces just a hint of a smirk from the underused Willis's unimpressed face. But also, I think, at Shyamalan's over-serious, pseudo-clever ruminations about real life imitating comic-book art here which essentially makes people laugh out unintentionally.
You wonder, for instance, why a lock-up with such dangerous beings in its midst is so poorly manned and guarded when Thor himself should be patrolling every hour. You'll chuckle at the strobe lights flicking on and off as if it's a wedding photographer's studio to stop McAvoy's insane collection of wild nuts from unleashing the inhumanly strong killer known as The Beast. Heck, you may even be inspired to paint your walls pink as a tribute to the giant pink room where the three amigos sit together in a row as though they're kindergarten kids.
I even thought I saw both main actresses here — Sarah Paulson as Dr Ellie Staple, the somewhat dubious psychiatrist treating the meta-freaks, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, sole survivor of the Beast's growling rampage in Split — trying to stifle their giggles in their scenes. Or maybe they just have very smiley puzzled faces.
Because if you haven't seen either of the earlier films, you'd likely sit through this movie with the facial expression which Jackson employs as a zonked-out detainee here. For a long time, he just sits there in a wheelchair as the titular manipulative mastermind, Mr Glass, with his head of untidy hair tilted to one side, locked in a silent cuckoo land that matches your utter bewilderment. That is right before he stops his sneaky pretence and yaks out the hilarious gist of his nefarious plot here as if he's Nick Fury waking up from a lobotomy cancelled by Thanos. “This is where they would paint you with big eyes and bubbles of confusion over your head,” he taunts one nuthouse attendant who's about to find out that comic-book villains really do exist.
Okay, I'm risking a lot of reveal here — along with M. Night Shyamalan's trademark twist of making things not always being what they appear to be — by even mentioning this much. This one here isn't a big “Holy crap, Bruce Willis is a ghost” kick, but more like a couple of mini-twists.
Suffice it to say that Shyamalan has his conceited auteur way of looking at things primarily from a highfalutin left-field as writer/director/actor/self-important yarn spinner. Basically, his yarns can spin both brilliantly and barmily at the same time.
“Have you ever seen very good magicians, David?” the shrink, Dr Staple, asks the superhero, Dunn, as she tries to convince him that everything is due to his imagination.
I heard a chuckle right there behind my seat. (**1/2)